Philly mayoral candidates Bailey, Kenney tangle at only forum featuring third-party hopefuls

 Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey, Democrat Jim Kenney, and three independent candidates debate the future of Philadelphia. (NewsWorks file photos)

Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey, Democrat Jim Kenney, and three independent candidates debate the future of Philadelphia. (NewsWorks file photos)

In all of the frenzy surrounding last weekend’s papal visit, you may have forgotten there’s a mayor’s race going on in Philadelphia.

Democratic nominee Jim Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey were joined by three third-party candidates in the first debate of the general election season Tuesday night. The hour-long debate, which was hosted by the United Way and moderated by 6ABC anchor Tamala Edwards, touched lightly on education, gentrification, poverty and of course, the pope. 

Kenney, who was criticized for his union support in the primary, was unabashedly “pro-union” (his phrase) in response to a question about how to get better pay for workers without hurting businesses.

“We don’t need minimum wages and living wages if people are represented collectively and are able to negotiate those benefits and wages themselves and the economy and the market will set those rates,” he said. 

Campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt later clarified that Kenney’s statement was not intended to negate Kenney’s campaign promise to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour. 

Bailey said there are plenty of jobs available, but many poor Philadelphians don’t have the skills to get them. She criticized Comcast, which plans to hire more than 2,000 workers to staff new call centers in New Mexico, Arizona and Washington.

“Why are we letting them put them out west instead of Philadelphia? Call centers are great opportunities because you don’t need a high school degree and lots of training is provided,” she said. 

On the papal  visit, Kenney and Bailey said the city had misled businesses into believing that it would be a boon to their bottom lines. But Kenney gave “kudos” to the Nutter administration for how it handled the event. Baily said many visitors were confused by road closures and other security measures.

Independent candidates Jim Foster and Boris Kindij and socialist Osborne Hart were also in attendance for the only debate of four that will include them. 

Foster, a Germantown newspaper publisher, addressed the issue in his closing statement. He confessed to taking a “strident stand on some of the issues.”  He and his fellow candidates often did not answer questions that were asked and instead focused on ideas central to their campaigns. 

“So this is the only chance we have,” said Foster, who took every opportunity to criticize “reckless waste” in city government. He proposed cutting Philadelphia’s 17-member City Council to just six district and four “at-large” members to cut down on spending and “patronage, gravy jobs” in City Hall. 

The main tenant of Kindij’s platform was self-evident: he wore a bright red tie with white lettering reading, “$15 min wage.” The real-estate property manager said that decreasing taxes would incentivize businesses to increase workers’ pay.

Hart, a shelf-stocker at Walmart, spoke of the need to “mobilize” working people and to demand better pay and better politicians who represent their interests.

Three more debates will be held on Oct. 12, Oct. 19 and Oct. 25. The general election is Nov. 3. 

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